Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Sādhikā as Guru Tattva: Breaking out of Solipsism

In a previous posting, I used the expression “The Other came to me as Woman” twice. I think it is important to discuss what I meant here in connection with the question of strī-saṅga.

Generally speaking, it would not be an understatement that, for the sādhaka, the world is a fearful thing. As for the Buddha, whose four noble truths begin with the word “misery,” the perception is that birth, old age, disease and death haunt us and incessantly reduce all our efforts in this world to mere vanity. Thus, nearly every religion starts with some kind of movement away from the world and harbors persistent monastic movements where other-worldly values are given preeminence. Rather than calling this a movement away, it may be more correct to call it a movement within.

Nevertheless, though on this stage preoccupation with the perishable is seen as a waste of time, with a change in spiritual perceptions, the position of the external world is eventually raised again. Mystics who find union with God generally agree that, in one way or another, the world also has transcendent value. It is to emphasize this that I place so much importance on the Vaishnava theological position that accepts the reality of the world.

Religions in general (and Vedantists in particular) have a subjective idealist position in relation to the world. That is, they take consciousness as primary and phenomena as secondary. This is in diametric opposition to the empiricists, who take it as an axiom that consciousness is a byproduct of matter.

The monist (or indeed any idealist) sees the phenomenal world as a product of his own consciousness, which is the only reality. When he utters the Upanishadic motto: tat tvam asi, he literally means that phenomena exist only in his head. There are, evidently, less solipsistic versions of Advaita Vedanta, but this is the meaning of brahma satyam, jagan mithyā. The Vedantic idea of identity of Brahma and Atma, i.e., "In the deepest caverns of my being, that which I find is the same Truth that is the universal, all-pervading Ground of Being, existing in infinity," means to the monist that there is no distinction between self and other: "I am that."

Vaishnava Vedanta starts from the same premise, "All I can really know is that I am conscious." However, Vaishnavas accept the fundamental distinction between consciousness and that of which one is conscious, as subject and object. Indeed, "I am that" is true in the sense that I am part of that Whole; nevertheless, no matter how deep I go into myself, I always find Another. There is another bird sitting in this tree. No matter how far I go out into infinity, there is always something beyond. Furthermore, I can only know this Other when it mercifully decides to penetrate my solipsistic, self-centered view.

nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas
tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanuṁ svām
This Self cannot be attained through speeches, nor through brainwork, nor through extensive study. That person will attain the Self whom the Self chooses. To him, the Self uncovers his own form. (Katha Upanishad)
For the Freudians, the external other is called the “reality principle.” Freud saw the child as a real solipsistic bundle of urges. The mouth, anus and genital would progressively become the focal points of consciousness, and with each of these stages, reality would impose the awareness that mere desiring does not make it so.

Subjective idealism, indeed all religion, is seen as having its roots in a kind of primitive or infantile magical thinking. The idea that mind has any power over matter is a stage of childlike consciousness that we all must outgrow in order to live functionally in the real world.

For the Vaishnava, however, the Other is God, whether encountered internally or externally. In fact, the encounter with God is the only thing that is going on in life: a human life is simply a long conversation with God, like Augustine in his Confessions. Within and without, the Other imposes himself on our solipsistic world view. I remember those tough guy Gaudiya Math sannyasis challenging the Advaitins, threatening them with punches and asking, “Is it still all One? Are you still God?” Crude, but true.

This is why Guru Tattva is of such importance in Hinduism. We must be able to recognize the Guru both within and without. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s concept of Guru Tattva was sophisticated in this way. Conventional gurus form a part of the conventional continuum in which we are living. Rather than being the result of an epiphany, a revelation of the divine imperative, such gurus are just another piece of the things-as-usual scenario. The general distrust of gurus comes from the recognition of their mere conventionality and is in itself the result of just such a divine imperative coming from within.

Now what I am driving at here (in the context of my principal subject matter) is that the encounter of a male sādhaka and female sādhikā is another manifestation of Guru Tattva, replete with the same numinous quality. The phenomenon of human love is a complex one that has been explained in a thousand ways since the beginning of time: today the empiricists who try to explain everything in terms of the evolutionary imperative seem to have the upper hand in popular consciousness, despite the tenacity of the romantic view. We, however, believe that evolutionary explanations, whatever their scientific value (and we tend to accept them), do not do justice to the very real numinous and transcendent elements that surround the human experience of love, or even the desire for it.

When we accept Radha and Krishna, the Divine Syzygy, as our Deity, we are in effect saying that this manifestation of the encounter with the Other is the root value of all creation. ānandād imāni bhūtāni jāyante. “Out of bliss are all these creations manifest” (Taittariya Upanishad). Unity, though the underlying principle of creation, cannot be artificially imposed through so-called knowledge. Variety is the result of the Divine’s desire for play. The essence of that play is finding that union in the midst of the apparent division. We will not escape in the obsession for kaivalya, or monadic liberation.

The word siddhi means success. In Easy Journey to Other Planets, Srila Prabhupada pointedly asks what the use of the yogic siddhis are when the same things are achieved by modern man through science and technology? This was meant to show the mundane nature of the yogic mystic powers. In another sense, though, this gives us an idea of what siddhis are: they are the capacity to impose on external reality the workings of the imagination. A yogi, by the power of thought alone (through “magical thinking”) is said to be able to break the laws of nature, i.e., perform miracles. The modern scientist is similarly able to achieve prodigious feats by imagination and then realizing those products of thought externally, in matter.

What then are the siddhis for a bhakta? In fact, the definition given of a siddha by Haridas Das in his account of Siddha Krishnadas Babaji, is that the Vaishnava siddha produces some external manifestation of the divine lila in which he is absorbed. Krishnadas, so it is told, dropped a bottle of perfume in his meditation, and the fragrance could be smelled for days by all who came to his ashram. Shyamananda was marked by Radharani’s nūpur in his līlā-smaraṇa and the mark could be seen by devotees in this world.

Other symptoms of the siddha, such as those discussed in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 10, emphasize the sāttvika bhāvas, such as those mentioned in Bhāgavatam 11.2. These too are a manifestation of inner bhāvas on the external world, i.e., the physical body. For some, as for Vishwanath in the last chapter of Mādhurya-kādambini, siddhi in bhakti is seen as the direct vision of Krishna with these senses, i.e., sākṣātkāra.

On the other hand, the Chaitanya Charitamrita says,

kali-kāle yuga dharma nāma saṅkīrtana
kṛṣṇa śakti vinā nāhi tāra pravartana
In the age of Kali, the religious practice is chanting the Holy Names. Without being empowered by Krishna, such practices cannot be implemented in the world. (CC 3.7.11)
This verse is often quoted about as evidence that Srila Prabhupada was empowered by Krishna. How can anyone deny it? This too is a siddhi—the manifestation in the external world of an inner desire or concept. In fact, any guru who takes a disciple and somehow shapes his vision of the world has attained a siddhi.

Liberal Christian theology does not see the "Kingdom of God" in eschatological terms (as God directly intervening like Kalki to destroy the miscreants and establish the Satya Yuga), but as the burden of the believer: through the inner transformation that comes from the mystical union with Christ, one becomes not only empowered to transform the world in the image of Christ, but has the obligation to do so.

What I am getting at here is the relationship of the inner world to the outer. To recap: In early stages of consciousness, one is self-absorbed, a bundle of impulses to sense gratification. Maturity comes as Reality imposes itself. However, the spiritual impulse in great part arises out of our helplessness in the face of Reality — the inevitability of old age, disease and death. This leads to a movement away from the world, or to an inward movement. This movement can be shallow or deep, depending on the individual. For everyone, this movement has to result in some encounter with the Other, but that encounter will be only as profound as the inner depths to which one has plunged. But siddhi, i.e., the success of that inner movement, must be measured, in some way or another, by external manifestations.

The process is not complete in only breaking away: its success is measured by results, which are in fact the product of seeing the world as not different from Krishna. The Other, the reality principle, ceases to be a danger to be feared, but the living manifestation of the Divine Partner. That which is the deepest center of myself is manifest externally.

Now in the world, woman is generally seen as a civilizing influence on man, the centrifugal force that reins in the centripetal forces unleashed in the male. Men “sow wild oats” until they are harnessed into a life of responsibility by woman.

In other words, Woman represents "The World." In India, both men and women were protected from irresponsibility by early marriage, which of course, whatever its benefits on the young couple, would have its repercussions later in their life together. In Chinese society, Buddhists were suspect precisely because of their other-worldly approach to life, which was considered subversive to the smooth functioning of society.

For those who are engaged on an inner voyage, woman is seen as a danger because the great amount of energy necessary for self-understanding is generally materially unproductive. And material productivity, though possessing certain values beyond the purely material (in the progressive concept of spiritual perfection), is seen as depleting the energy needed for spiritual productivity. And everyone agrees that the energies depleted in cultivating relational harmony and those lost in sexual activity, though perhaps motivators for material productivity, can be deleterious to it, what to speak of spiritual productivity.

nidrayā hriyate naktaṁ vyavāyena ca vā vayaḥ
divā cārthehayā rājan kuṭumba-bharaṇena vā
One's life is stolen away by the night in sleep or sexual activity, and by the day in the hunt for wealth and in maintaining the family. (SB 2.1.3)
Conventional wisdom has thus always held that the companionship of woman is indispensable in achieving the goals of happiness in material life. Radical religions that deny this in a determined dualism of body and soul are seen as subversive, and not at all positive from the social point of view, which sees their spiritual goals as unproductive. This is seen as especially true where celibates are concerned, because of all the antisocial dangers that arise from their unwinnable battle against the flesh. Therefore even St. Paul said, “It is better to marry than to burn.”

This, however, is not what I am getting at. For the Sahajiya, the association of a sādhaka or a sādhikā is not a default option for someone who is incapable of “keeping it in his pants.” Nor is it the result of a desire to produce offspring and lead a family life of material responsibility. It is a purely mystical adventure in which one is engaged in a most profound encounter with the Other.

As this previous paragraph clearly indicates, even though I have been talking of siddhi, my real interest for the moment is  sādhana. In his commentary to BRS 1.3.1, Sri Jiva Prabhu states that the goal of  sādhana-bhakti is to produce the sādhya, which is bhāva in the first instance, prema in the second.

In other words,sādhanā is the use of the body, mind and senses to cultivate a state of consciousness characterized by feeling for the Supreme. The feeling that one cultivates, i.e., bhāva, is in fact a sense of identity in both senses of the term — a specific sense of identity with the Supreme, and a sense of identity in relation to the Supreme. Acintya identity with (abheda) and identity as a unique individual (bheda). In fact, though though both are equally present in bhāva and prema, in the former, identity is more prominent; in the latter, identity with.

Actually, when we talk about the stages of sādhana-bhakti in the form Rupa Goswami gives it (with eight steps: śraddhā, sādhu-saṅga, bhajana-kriyā, niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti, bhāva, prema), we should try to understand it in an organic and not a linear fashion. Each step contains elements of all the others, with prominence of one element giving the name of the stage one has achieved. Thus the arising of śraddhā not only carries some element of sādhu-saṅga, etc., but also contains a little of prema as well, for how could one have faith without a little aperçu of what lies at the end?

Thus, it is said that prema is present in the Holy Name (nāma-prema) and so chanting gives us a taste of prema. It is also incorrect to say that rasa is not experienced in even the earliest stages of the bhakti process. The Supreme is raso vai saḥ. How could faith develop without some such experience of the tasteful Lord? The same applies on each of these progressive stages. Sādhu-saṅga gives us an experience of divine bliss through the devotees, the representatives of the Lord.

This process is also cyclical, in the sense that our devotional life can go through these different phases more than once. For instance, through changes in association our faith may go through some transformation, such as going from the vaidhī bhakti outlook to that of rāgānugā bhakti. In such cases, the characteristics of śraddhā will change, as will those of each of the other elements in the evolutionary process. Though what has gone before remains as the foundation of the new development, one is in effect starting the process all over again.

Let me express the process in the following words: Every great effort can be subdivided into smaller efforts. Each grand success is made of smaller successes, or siddhis. Sādhu-saṅga itself may be seen as the success of śraddhā, for the faithful seeker has earned the Lord's kind glance in the form of Guru. This is indeed a siddhi, and some beginning practitioners become so inflated they think that they have attained siddhi itself!

The Sahajiya path is similarly another dimension of this prema or rasa-sādhanā. It builds on the prior culture of bhāva in vaidhī and rāgānugā practices, but due to the difference in orientation recapitulates and revitalizes all these steps, giving them new force. The same acts of śravaṇa and kīrtana, etc., that took a particular form in the vaidhī approach were transformed in the rāgānugā approach due to a fundamentally different kind of faith (the latter called lobha). As the Sahajiya sādhanā begins, it will now undergo another revision due to the new dimension of faith. That new dimension, like the others before it, is in large part the result of sādhu-saṅga, which is not different from Guru Tattva.

Guru Tattva is the incursion of the Other, the Reality Principle charged with spiritual meaning, on the solipsistic tendency of the monadic meditator. Therefore, I say that the discovery of the Sādhaka or Sādhikā is another manifestation of Guru Tattva. As such, it is a kind of siddhi, reward or compensation in itself. However, it is in fact the third stage of bhāva-sādhana. All that went before was just a beginning.

See also Stri Sangi Ek Asadhu


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